Mess with the body’s clock, mess with stem cells

The Canadian Stem Cell Network posted an interesting item on their blog today about the relationship between stem cells and our sleep/wake cycle (also called the circadian rhythm).

David Kent, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge, writes about the work, which was published online in Nature November 9:

The group of Salvador Aznar Benitah in Barcelona recently published research which links skin stem cell turnover and heterogeneity to the body’s internal clock. Their work has inspired many new studies that aim to understand the impacts of circadian rhythm on other stem cell systems.

The group found that when they disrupt genes that control the sleep wake cycle, they also disrupted the balance of stem cells in a dormant versus dividing state in the mouse hair follicles. The blog goes on:

This disturbance in rhythm led to premature aging as well as an increased incidence of tumours, suggesting that we might better understand how cancers grow and progress by understanding the natural cycles our bodies go through.

In the Nature paper, the authors write:

Our results indicate that the circadian clock fine-tunes the temporal behaviour of epidermal stem cells, and that its perturbation affects homeostasis and the predisposition to tumorigenesis.

Translated, what the researchers are saying is that the body’s daily rhythms helps control the behavior of stem cells, at least the ones in the hair follicles. Mess with the body’s clock and you mess with the ability of those stem cells to carry out their normal functions, including regulating aging and tumors.


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